June is stand-up-and-be-counted-time for agriculture


May 20, 2007|By TED SHELSBY

Data collectors will be knocking on doors across Maryland in coming weeks looking for pigs, goats cows and other animals.

Field workers will gather information as part of an annual nationwide survey on land use and agriculture activity.

The survey is being conducted for the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Services, which measures nearly every aspect of farming.

Conducted each June, the study "is one of the largest and most comprehensive surveys conducted each year," said Barbara Rater, director of the service's Maryland office, which is based in the state Department of Agriculture building in Annapolis.

"By providing an in-depth look at land uses and agricultural activities, the survey provides the most timely, accurate and useful information on the current condition of U.S. agriculture," Rater said.

During the first two weeks of June, survey workers will visit properties throughout the state and interview owners and operators of farms and ranches. They will be counting the number of farms in Maryland and asking questions about the cost of renting land, the value of land, and the revenue produced by the farm.

The information also provides members of the General Assembly with the data needed to develop farm policy. It also is expected to be used by Congress in writing the new farm bill.

Last year's survey revealed that Maryland has the sixth-most-expensive farmland in the country. While that might seem like a good thing, agriculture officials says it is the biggest threat to the future of farming in the state.

Maryland is one of the hottest real estate development markets in the country, and farmers in some parts of the state are being offered as much as $500,000 for lots. That can make it attractive for a farmer to sell land to a developer and is seen as the major reason for the loss of about 400 farms in the state since 2000.

Results of the survey are expected to be released June 29.

Deer damage crops

To many, deer are irresistible - graceful, docile and cute. That affection is not shared by all farmers in Maryland, and for good reason.

Farmers lost an estimated $10.4 million in potential crop income because of damage done by wildlife last year, according to the USDA's statistical service for Maryland.

Deer accounted for the vast majority of the damage, blamed for eating 79 percent of the crops lost by farmers last year. Other culprits feasted on corn, soybeans and wheat.

The USDA estimates that groundhogs accounted for 8 percent of the loss, followed by resident and migrant geese, at 4 percent each. Bears in Western Maryland were blamed for 2 percent of the losses.

Estimated economic loss was the greatest in north central Maryland, with crop losses reported at $4.8 million, or 46 percent of the state's totaled estimated losses. The region includes Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Washington counties.

In this region, 83 percent of the damage was attributed to the big appetites of deer.

In their battle with wildlife, farmers spent an estimated $1.2 million last year on preventive measures, such as fences, frightening devices and repellents.

Wheat production

If everything goes as expected, this will be a good year for Maryland wheat growers.

Production is estimated at 11.5 million bushels this year. That would be 35.2 percent larger than last year's crop and would be the largest since 2000, when farmers harvested 12.6 million bushels.

Wheat is the third-largest grain crop in the state, behind corn and soybeans. Wheat sales came to $27.7 million in 2005, the latest year for which price statistics are available.

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